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The Global Food System Isn’t Working

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility and inequity of globalized industrial food systems. Transforming them will require leaders to prioritize the vulnerable over the powerful, enhance resilience, establish transparent value chains, and provide everyone with affordable access to the foods needed for a healthy diet.

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA – The year 2020 was unforgettable for all of us, and tragic for many. No one had imagined that a lethal virus originating in horseshoe bats could spread so fast and upend our lives so thoroughly. And in most countries, there is still no sign that normalcy is returning. Yet, although we can only guess at what post-pandemic life will be like, addressing the growing problems of hunger and malnutrition must be central to the global recovery.

Many people were in dire straits even before COVID-19 struck. Although extreme poverty was decreasing, it still afflicted roughly 700 million people, while nearly half of the world’s population were living on less than $5.50 per day, and thus barely subsisting. At the same time, the concentration of global wealth continues to increase exponentially, with the combined wealth of billionaires in the United States increasing by more than $1 trillion during 2020.

Moreover, hunger and malnutrition have been increasing globally since 2015 –ironically, the year that the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development established the goal of “zero hunger” by 2030. Over 700 million people are food insecure, and 265 million are on the brink of starvation, a situation not seen since World War II. Two billion people suffer from various forms of malnutrition, including undernutrition, vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity. And three billion people cannot afford healthy diets.